BENEFIT OF MEDITATION
There are two levels of benefit experienced by the practitioner of meditation. The first benefit is the immediate improvement in the conditions of daily life. The practice of meditation leads to a mind that is more peaceful, more tranquil and more at ease. Because the mind is more relaxed, events that usually disturb us seem to take on less importance and we stop taking them in such a serious way. Likewise, through meditation the mind gradually learns to be independent of external conditions and circumstances. This mind that is unaffected by outer conditions is then able to discover its own stability and tranquility. A stable mind, one that is not disturbed, leads to the experience of less suffering in our lives. These are the immediate benefits that come from regular meditation practice.
QUALITIES OF THE MIND
Before we begin to meditate, we should understand something about the qualities of mind, what the mind actually is. The mind is not a thing – it is not a material substance, a fixed object. It is comprised of the nature of knowing. It has this capacity. The mind is simply a succession of moments of consciousness, moments of awareness or moments of knowing. In essence, the mind is without obstruction, it is vast, it is unlimited. The mind is not an entity that exists as such and that lasts for a certain length of time. As the mind enters into relationship with objects, there arise a series of ever-changing instances of perception; therefore, the mind is not one continuous thing – it is impermanent. Thus, this mind, which has the capacity to know and is by nature unobstructed, must be trained to remain stable. We need stability in order for the mind to recognize its true essence. Without this stability the mind is unable to recognize itself.
The first meditation technique we use to tame the mind is called shamatha (Sanskrit) or shinay (Tibetan) meditation, which means 'calm abiding.' Shamatha consists of six steps – counting the breath, following the breath and resting on the breath are the first three steps. After you practice these for a long time, the mind will become tame.
Then you progress to the next three steps that develop from concentration on the breath. Here we use analysis to see the connection between mind and the breath. Through this analysis you will realize the emptiness of the mind’s nature. You can develop an intuitive feeling for the mind and then you can play with it. You can change the concentration, the image upon which you focus and know that the mind is like a mirage – you can play with.
When we are using the meditation method of counting the breaths, we count the breathing cycles (in-breath and out-breath being one complete cycle). We initially count continuously from one through five, the idea being to rest the mind on the breathing without any distraction until we reach five cycles and then continue to repeat the process. When we feel we can do this easily, we increase the number of cycles we count, but only for the duration of time we’re able to remain undistracted. Through this practice we develop in our meditation an inner experience of tranquility. As we improve our skills in this meditation technique, this ease and tranquility becomes an ongoing experience of the mind. This is the result of shamatha practice.
After practicing shamatha meditation where we've learned to develop the mind’s tranquility and stability, we then move into the second phase of meditation called vipashyana (Sanskrit) or insight meditation. This is a meditation practice in which we gain a profound insight into the true nature of mind. Insight meditation is so vast it is difficult from our point of view to comprehend what it really is. Vipashyana means to see things as they really are. We train our minds to rest in a calm and clear state. Based on this, we are able to realize mind's peaceful nature and innate wisdom.
The primary guidebook for meditation at Bodhi Path centers is The Path to Awakening, a commentary on the Seven Points of Mind Training, by the 14th Shamarpa, Mipham Chokyi Lodrö.